Ocean City Today

Officials react to oil policy change

Lifting prohibition against offshore drilling produces protests, some with caveats
By Brian Gilliland | Jan 11, 2018

(Jan. 12, 2018) Local and state officials responded negatively this week to the Trump Administration’s announcement that it would allow offshore oil and natural gas exploration in most coastal areas.

The change of policy lifts the prohibition against coastal drilling in the Mid-Atlantic and other areas put into effect by the previous administration.

The turnaround was declared by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke last week, prompting immediate condemnations by environmental groups, Gov. Larry Hogan and other government officials.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security,” Zinke said. “It provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks. Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period.”

Zinke added that not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and that the department would take that into consideration in the coming weeks. Apparently, one of those inappropriate areas is Florida, which was removed from the plan after Republican Gov. Rick Scott strenuously protested.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said in a statement after meeting Scott in Florida. “I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Those considerations have not yet been evaluated for Maryland’s coastline, since Hogan directed Attorney General Brian Frosh to oppose the plan in no uncertain terms.

In a Jan. 4 letter to Frosh, Hogan said, “I am writing to direct you to investigate the U.S. Department of the Interior’s plan … to make Maryland’s coastal waters available for offshore drilling. If the Department’s proposal could potentially result in such drilling in Maryland’s coastal waters, you are hereby directed to commence and prosecute any viable legal claims, actions or suits against the U.S. government to prevent it.”

Hogan is joined, in varying measures of support, by local and federal officials.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan voiced his strong opposition during a Tuesday work session, stating the resort has a long history of opposing similar measures. Meehan said the resort had sent letters to and received support from Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen. Cardin and Van Hollen, both Democrats, also immediately condemned the plan

“The administration’s actions are as ignorant of common sense and scientific realities as they are of the widespread public opposition to Atlantic offshore drilling,” Cardin stated in his official release. “I am disgusted – but not surprised – by the Trump Administration’s machinations to allow drilling along our Atlantic Coast.”

Van Hollen, via Twitter, was no less fiery.

“After providing huge windfall tax breaks to big corporations, Trump is now giving a New Year’s gift to Big Oil at the expense of our fishermen and coastal communities. Never thought of Big Oil and big corporations as the “forgotten” Americans,” his tweet reads.

Congressman Andy Harris (R-1st) said he would “support whatever the district supports,” but also wanted to wait and see what the ensuing discussion would bring, and what the potential economic benefits would be. He was one of 155 members of Congress to urge Zinke in August to seek renewed leasing in a “safe and responsible manner.”

Harris said the resort’s opposition to offshore wind turbines was based upon the towers’ visibility, and thought the same mechanism would apply to offshore oil drilling.

State Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) said he  is “solidly opposed” to coastal drilling, and has been talking with local and federal government leaders to solidify that opposition.

“There’s no possible scenario in which this is a good idea,” Mathias said Wednesday.

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) said that if this is the same proposal that had circulated in the past, she opposes it. However, if this were a new plan or one with unique features, she would evaluate it on its own merits.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in Annapolis on Jan. 16 to discuss the matter. Meehan indicated he would attend the meeting to express what he called the resort’s continued and consistent opposition to offshore drilling in Maryland.

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